“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist,” agent Hadley Engelhard said. “If they are making zero, we are making zero.”
Atlanta is home to some of the nation’s top-performing sports-agency firms.
Three were ranked in the top 10, with at least six players represented in the 2010 draft, by Street & Smith’s Sports Business Daily.
Pat Dye Jr.’s Profile Sports ranked third, with 11 players. Todd France’s France AllPro Athlete Management ranked seventh, with eight players. Engelhard’s group, Enter-Sports Management, ranked ninth, with seven players.
David Dunn’s group, Athlete’s First, which represents Falcons first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon and is based in Irvine, Calif., topped the list with 14 players.
France’s firm has averaged three first-rounders since the 2005 draft. This year he had two first-rounders: Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams and Georgia Tech wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
“We are an extremely solid company,” France said. “We’ve had a ton of success. We’ve had a lot of first-round draft picks and a lot of top free agents. For the good of the game and the good of the business, nobody wants to see football locked out.”
Atlanta also is home to mid-size firms such as Kevin Conner’s Universal Sports Management, which had a 2010 first-rounder in Florida State’s Patrick Robinson.
Agents, whether they are from big firms, mid-size firms or represent only one player, have braced for a lockout.
While there will be a draft next year, the league could come to a halt in March if management and the NFLPA are not able to reach a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement.
“We made sure that each client has had an opportunity to make an assessment of their financial status,” Conner said. “We had them meet with their financial advisers to make sure that the year without income is well-planned in case the money doesn’t flow for that year.”
The agents have to brace their firms for what could be a financial disaster for some.
The agents group met with the NFLPA during their annual meeting at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Some have participated on conference calls to get updates from the union. But the group will have no active role in the negotiations, which is disconcerting to some.
“I know that a number of agents suggested several things, but there are many pieces to the puzzle,” Engelhard said. “It’s going to take some long negotiations to make this work. I am cautiously optimistic that the owners, the union reps and [DeMaurice] Smith will work to come to a solution that is a win-win situation for both parties.”
Dye, who is one of the deans in the sports-agency business — he has been certified since 1987 — also is optimistic.
“I struggle with the idea that we can’t figure out how to split up an $8 billion a year pie,” Dye said. “But the reality is that [a lockout] certainly is a possibility.”
Some of the key issues to be hashed out include a rookie salary cap, an extended 18-game season, veteran benefits, insurance benefits, steroids testing, defined gross revenues and revenue sharing.
One of the biggest hurdles will be the rookie salary cap.
The owners didn’t like that former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford had a guaranteed $42 million contract before throwing a pass in the NFL. Some teams, such as the Oakland Raiders with JaMarcus Russell, have been burned by rookies who proved to be busts.
However, the other side of the rookie-salaries issue is not as lopsided. If a late first-round cornerback becomes a starter, he would play for a $2 million contract, while a lot of starting cornerbacks in the league make closer to $6 million.
“Then when you start looking at third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds … the rest of the draft is lopsided on the low side,” France said. “There are a lot of moving parts. … I don’t know that there is a magic solution because there is not one issue.”
Some players already have been adversely affected.
More than 200 players could have become unrestricted free agents. But most had to re-sign with their existing teams for modest pay raises as restricted free agents.
There are several veteran players, such as wide receiver Terrell Owens and defensive tackle Grady Jackson, who believe they have not been signed because of the labor situation.
Also, the dispute will affect players coming up for new contracts or players who were looking for contract extensions, such as San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis, Miami running back Ronnie Brown or Baltimore running back Ray Rice.
“I don’t think anybody wants to see a lockout,” Conner said. “I think we are optimistic, but at the same time we are making sure that our guys prepare for the worst-case scenario.”
Some hope that even if there is a lockout in March, the two sides will resolve the labor dispute by August, in time for training camp.
“Then it would be business as usual going into the 2011 season,” Engelhard said.
And the cash would continue to flow.